INT: Tom Tykwer

German filmmaker Tom Tykwer made his mark by gaining worldwide prominence with his critically acclaimed and most successful 1998 German film, RUN LOLA RUN. He appears to be a cool director who is artistically proficient, with a rich vision for accentuating vivid details, while illustrating and verbalizing an intense focus on precision that is imperative when conceptualizing a sensual script. After a four year journey of laborious filmmaking, we are fortunate to get a refreshing taste or smell of Tykwer’s ingenuity as he actualizes his latest imaginative and hypnotic masterpiece, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER.

PERFUME is a famous story based on Patrick Suskind’s book that tells the story of a boy with a refined sense of smell who, in search of the perfect perfume discovers the necessity to murder young and innocent girls, in order to capture and preserve their natural fragrance. It’s a black humored twisted thriller which leaves you feeling ironically compassionate for the murderer. Tykwer demonstrates passion and expertise by actualizing and conceiving an intense tale with overlapping themes.

With an extraordinary cast of actors consisting of newcomer Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, he brings producer Bernd Eichinger’s fifteen year dream to fruition. It was a pleasure to have met with the insightful director as he talked extensively about the casting process, the challenges of filming, and the varying themes from his film PERFUME.

Tom Tykwer

How did you orchestrate the orgy scene and was it difficult shoot?

There were 800 people. This particular case was more challenging and more intense than others. In general, I wanted the crowd to be very real and not these types of crowds that you saw up in heaven period movies where they are going up and down in the background and you feel like they are robots and they don't even know what they are doing, where they came from and why. If the scene goes on too long then they turn walls and don't move anymore because you told to them what to do. We put a huge effort into getting these people doing the jobs in the background to know what they are doing and to learn them.

The fish people, they opened the fish and learned it or they were real fisher people. Or butchers and bakers, they were all people from the profession or they had to learn how to work. Sometimes there was a business that could go on for hours. They had real stuff to do, so we could create a real world and shoot it as if we we’re shooting a documentary. So it was a very Cinema Verite approach to 18th Century France. Get the world alive as possible so we can do whatever we want and it's not like extras can say "but what am I doing now?" They can just move endlessly you know. It's a method that I've actually established and learned about doing a film called The Princess and the Warrior.

The Princess and the Warrior was set in the psychiatric ward and we brought all these extras to play patients. So we went into a real ward and investigated a lot and watched movies with them so everybody had their real historical case. So they could really live in the ward for an entire day and knew what to do and knew their specific ticks. So this is the same thing that we did here. Then of course we also put them in those dresses, not only the minute before they had to go on the screen but they had to take them home and live in these clothes which is also why people don't probably move so strangely in their clothes. This was like wearing jeans. This is what people were wearing [back then].

For the lower class life, the reality of it in the 18th Century is that they were sewn into their underwear and it was cut open in the spring. They were not taking it off for five to six months. So you can imagine the entire stink. They had buttons to open it of course for their business but that's it. Then you have people who are already in a certain mood. They realize how serious you take it and how serious you take them and how much more that they feel they are giving life to a movie. Suddenly they feel like actors, which they are in my onion, so that gave reality to a degree that I had never experienced.

It was quite beautiful. And in the final sequence then, we of course needed a lot of rehearsal time for that. We put hundreds of people in a huge sports hall, and went through all these emotional transitions and then finally started undressing. They were together with a dance theatre group, a Spanish one which is a very famous dance theatre in Europe for very physical performances. Sometimes we would even include audiences for that. With them we developed this process that was kind of opening them up for [the performance]. Everybody had to read the novel and understand what the sequence was all about and that they are all potential pros of candidates. Then ultimately when we had weeks and weeks of rehearsal, we really had a lot of time for rehearsing this. Then finally when it came to the shooting which took more than a week, they were quite relaxed about it. They did it again and again and again and again.

Did you ever think while shooting this scene about the American release of the film and what the MPAA would do?

I couldn’t care less honestly. I didn’t think about …what’s the MPAA? (laughs) I really had other problems there.

It must have been another incredible challenge to create the sensation of something that could not come through on film, the sense of smell. Was it difficult to convey that?

The experience was intense because obviously the language was intense, no? That’s what I always said. The book itself doesn’t smell of course so it must be up to the language to challenge it to and in this case to find ways to represent the old factory world. Our key into this was taking Ben who was like my salvation. He solved so many problems and made them work but in the film making process it was very much trying to be as close to the character as subjective with his way of experiencing the world and possible to make it like a physical process.

Like the camera would see him grab the items, the details, the objects and see [his expression] towards them and [express the sense] the way through [which] he collects details. Understanding the reality is by picking little things. He never goes into a room and sees because he doesn’t see anyway, and smells all the individual things and then as if there were notes, he puts the notes together and slowly they form a cord, then that cord maybe becomes a composition. We were trying to follow that starting very often from close ups going a little wider and then having the wide shots more at the end of the sequence rather than the opening which is the more classical way of doing it.

But that’s only one example of course. For me in the investigation into this whole subject, the most important influence was the development of music. I mean finding the music for the film was finding a way into the smelling atmosphere of it. Getting to investigate into instruments and how they can be very airy and very much representing a certain kind of smell was eye opening and solved most of the problems for me.

Where did you find the beautiful locations especially with the lavender?

The lavender fields just as an example of course, they are in Provence, in France of course. They only have them there. They don’t exist anywhere else except for in a smaller part of Turkey and that’s all. So you really have to go there. If you want to check them out in Germany they just don’t exist. As much as of course the right architecture doesn’t exist in places you expect it to be, so it was quite a road [trip] movie to shoot which was a huge effort.

We had more than a 110 locations to cover. It’s a number that is outrageous considering the budget. It sounds like a lot but it wasn’t much, considering the amount of stuff we had to cover. So we basically started to shoot the film in France in the lavender fields, then we went to Spain actually and shot a lot of Barcelona for Paris. All these weird things you do to create a reality that was believable because Paris unfortunately has been completely rebuilt in the 19th Century. You can’t go there and shoot 18th Century because it doesn’t exist anymore. So we went to Barcelona for that and then we went of North Spain, south of France to the border for other country side scenes. Then we stayed in Munich.

Did the weather cooperate?

We were lucky. I was lucky because I never wanted good weather right. I wanted bad weather. It’s a film about bad conditions, bad life conditions so the worst thing that could happen to us was sunlight. So we were in summer in Spain which was the worst summer they’ve ever had and it was the one thing that I had been praying for.

What is with the red hair in the film? Was that conscious for you?

You mean was that on purpose? (laughs) It’s in the book. Obviously, maybe it is subconscious and one of the reasons I pick up on it and loved it even more because I do like red hair but it’s actually a complete coincidence. Maybe it was fate?

Speaking of the book, I heard it was quite a challenge to get Patrick (Suskind) to finally do this. How did that go?

He didn’t do much. He just finally gave in. The producer [Bernd Eichinger] had earned it. He’s amazing and very persistent and quite an intense lovely producer. After 15 years of persistence, [Suskind] just gave up [resisting and gave in]. And probably he got curious about the film and he got relaxed about it.

Do you talk to him much?

No I only actually met him once. He’s really reclusive, extremely shy, not at all a public person. There is just one picture existing of him. One photograph which is 25 years old I think and he was very polite and very nice and wished me ‘all the best and good luck' and 'please leave me alone. ''(laughs) I think he spent like five years writing this, fifteen years living on the fame of it, he just didn’t want the crazy director to suck him into it for another 4 years which it took to make the film. I think he just wanted it to be over with it.

Speaking of subconscious choices, you cast 2 of the largest noses in Hollywood in the film, Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman. Obviously they are wonderful actors but any other reason you chose them?

It’s really something I never thought about. Dustin in particular is so famous for his nose and in America it seems to be running gag because when he did the graduate, everyone was smiling at the in end because nobody really believed that he could become a star with that kind of a nose. He obviously fit perfectly maybe also because of his nose. But he offers so many qualities. There’s this thing about Dustin I love so much because he’s got this irony that we need for the character but he also brings gravitas to him and he always makes the most corky and burlesque characters still in history and in foundation. He’s just a genius and incredible fun to work with. He’s extremely delightful, experimental, not at all somebody who sticks to any methods.

With Alan (Rickman), also the first thought I had about this character, I said we need someone with immense posture, somebody who’s really impressive and who looks like he might be strong enough, smart enough and impressive enough to hunt down our guy. I wanted that person to be a threat to Grenouille and at the same time that’s what I love about the whole concept and the material is that he’s actually on the good side. You‘re kind of nervous about him getting too close to Grenouille because I want people to root for Grenouille even though he’s the bad guy. I mean that’s quite twisted.

So to get Alan for I, I was really lucky and happy because he also adds something very particular to any kind of film set in 18th Century because of all the actors working on this film, he knows most about period. He inhabits it. If you put these clothes on him, he owns them. He walks in them as if he had never worn anything else. And he gives a presence and breathes the period into the film to a degree that lots of other actors can pick up on and profit from his knowledge about it. His body is so much into those movements and others need to train for that because people were moving completely differently then. He knows all about that.

Were you looking special qualities in the women you were casting to be murdered?

I particular the two red ones, the first one and the last one, they were particularly hard to find because the first one needs to be a person that you can imagine that she might have been quite in reach for him - a person that must have a unique presence but at the same time be a lower class girl that might have been the one, but he just messed it up-which is also his trauma of course for the rest of the film which just sparks all the other murders. Then the other one which was of course the far bigger role, the role of Laura, Alan Rickman’s (character’s) daughter.

I found it particularly difficult to find someone who needs to be extremely young obviously and carry that kind of innocence but at the same time give us the feeling of something like an older soul - somebody who has some knowledge and in which you can disparage a hint of conflict of a young woman not really being happy in the times that she’s born in. And this is quite a modern relationship that she’s having with her father. To get somebody who hasn’t been broken hearted yet because she’s much too young for that which gives you this whole utopian flavor which leaves everything as possible and life is beautiful and all these things which is of course what we admire about young people in general.

In particular there is a quality about young girls at the age between 13-16, where they haven’t been poorly treated by some other idiotic male teenager and who broke their heart and f*cked it all up. And they still believe it’s all possible and love is grand but also beyond that they are usually more clever and educated and smarter than boys are at that age. Boys are a little late usually, and they start having sex not understanding anything about life whereas girls first know quite much about life or have this kind of strange period. And everybody knows it about 13, 14 year old girls, that they seem to be much older already in their thinking and their attitude- not all of them but it’s something you encounter quite often and also what makes you in love with it.

More or less everybody can understand that there’s an ideal about that stage. The unbroken heart with all the utopian syllables and a certain amount of knowledge that’s unusual for this sort of age. You know it’s one of in a million to find and be ale to portray that, also to act it. So I found Rachel (Hurd-Wood) who’s real good and just amazing. She’s just compelling, one of those super rare finds - a really good actress but also somebody who really understands the complexities of this character.

Aside from the challenge of the orgy scene, what other scene was difficult or challenging to shoot?

Well I mean you've seen the film. There was hardly any day that passed that didn’t seem like the most incredible, scary challenge of my entire career. You could probably name as one of the most important moments as of course the scene when Dustin Hoffman and Ben Wishaw meet each other and when there’s this sort of dual of the wizards. The geniuses meet each other and there’s this sort of Cavilieri/Mozart tension in the room. There’s this aging genius who’s meeting this young boy pretending to be better. Of course he’s quite upset about it at first and then he realizes that he’s far better than he could ever have been.

And he’s so super talented that sense of competition and awe and tension in the room is what I wanted to capture because I love that sequence in the book and I wanted it to be one of the outstanding moments in the film. And also because it’s very much connected to the murders. You see in that sequence you really root with Grenouille. It’s quite fun and fascinating to see this young guy convince this old genius how good he really is. So it was a challenge to orchestrate the different energies in the room because you’ve got this young, quite unknown, super talented actor with probably the most legendary and most amazing actor of our times. Seeing how those competitive energies were influencing the shoot in a good way - of course they loved each other but they were playing around with it. Dustin is very good in setting up the mood that is kind of big fun and at the same time excitedly tense.

The tone of this film goes from playful, ironic to dark. How did you make the tone changes work?

The tone is very much due to the way you approach he script I guess. I think it was very much thanks to Andrew Birkin, the key scriptwriter (of the team), also because he’s the only native English speaker. He was very amazing in picking this very unique mix of irony and tragedy that so much sparks the novel’s specialty and to translate that to into dialogue and into the language of the film. I was quiet obsessed with trying to capture that because I love the fact that you see a film that’s both a horror film and something like a romantic tale. There’s something disturbingly but awesomely romantic about it. But it’s also a horror movie and a tragedy that’s also very funny at places. I wanted to have that parallel. I always love it when genres intertwine in films and when that becomes quite effortless.

What are you working on next?

I’m doing a modern, contemporary film in present day (laughs). I‘m very close in doing a political thriller that’s a little bit in the tradition of the ‘70’s paranoia.

How long have you been involved with the musical aspect of films?

From the start. I started because I couldn’t afford it before and then I stayed with it because it is my major way into material. I understand it because of that. Of course I’m working with two other guys. We’re a band.

Source: JoBlo.com



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